Colonial Agent

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COLONIAL AGENT. Anglo-American agents worked in several capacities in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Colonial merchants and commercial enterprises hired agents to represent them in London. British ministries assigned diplomatic agents on missions to other nations, including colonial governments. Agents served specifically as liaisons to crown colonies. Others, stationed in London, more generally attended to the interests of each of the British colonies in North America. These agents, perhaps the most historically visible (including Benjamin Franklin, who served as an agent of Pennsylvania in England from 1757 to 1762), represented their colonies as paid lobbyists. Though never officially members of the imperial government, agents were essential to colonial administration. By the end of the seventeenth century, colonists and the crown recognized the necessity of maintaining a permanent presence in England.

English officials relied heavily on colonial spokesmen, the best means of communication with an extensive and far-flung empire. Though many agents were colonials, many were Englishmen (some of whom never actually journeyed to the colonies) who had special interests in America. Agents forwarded documents, drafted and presented petitions, shepherded colonial legislation through the proper channels, and settled land disputes, among numerous other duties. They appeared before the Privy Council, met with the royal cabinet members, and consulted with the Board of Trade and other governmental branches. Over the course of the eighteenth century, however, in the face of the increasingly factional nature of British politics, attempts by the crown to control all aspects of colonial government, and rising recalcitrance on the part of the colonies, it became more difficult for agents to function effectively as lobbyists.


Kammen, Michael G. A Rope of Sand: The Colonial Agents, British Politics, and the American Revolution. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1968.

Leslie J.Lindenauer